My first experience enjoying a Kaiseki meal at a traditional ryokan in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto was a seminal moment in my travels in Japan. I was amazed at the intricate blade work, the perfectly executed cooking technique and the impeccable quality of ingredients.
At Kinkiyu Hotel, located in Kawayu-Onsen in the eastern region of Hokkaido, I also experienced a high level of quality of ingredients but did so at a much more relaxing and down-home way. Kaiseki can be an intimidating experience and the possibilities for making a cultural faux pas seem endless. Here in Kawayu-Onsen, the possibility of looking a fool or making a mistake doesn’t seem to matter. The focus is placed on the enjoyment of the meal.
My room at the Kinkiyu hotel included both breakfast and dinner. Truth be told, I haven’t partaken of breakfast on a single morning because of the overwhelming variety and sheer volume of delicious food served the night before at dinner time. The dining room is more of a banquet style room, but that doesn’t in any way affect the level of food. The possibilities of dishes in Kaiseki are never-ending and during the several meals I have enjoyed here I haven’t had the same dish twice. As much as the food was enjoyable, my interactions with the servers were equally rewarding. Although my Japanese language skills leave much to be desired, I’ve been able to learn about what I’m eating and have enjoyed both the successful and unsuccessful attempts to communicate. The culinary highlight was a seafood-centric meal that included fresh crab legs, sashimi, roasted Buri (yellow tail) and a seafood nabe (stew). Kawayu-Onsen sits 90 minutes south and north of the respective port cities of Kushiro and Abashiri. This means that the area can offer the bounty of the land and sea.
I was also fortunate during my stay to enjoy a meal with local guides at one of the small banquet halls located on the same floor as the restaurant. The Suika Room sat the ten of us comfortably in a traditional tatami room. The meal was both rustic and refined. Plates of local cheese, cured ham and karrage (fried chicken) intermixed with steamy communal bowls of nabe, roasted local venison, plates of pickled vegetables and fried stingray in sweet sauce topped with thin slices of leeks. The dinner started at 7:00 p.m. and when the hall closed at 9:00 p.m. our server was kind enough to provide something of a comedy show. I didn’t understand everything that was said, but the amount of laughter from my dinner companions combined with her mannerisms and tone of voice proved to be entertaining enough.
The group retired to the one of the hotel rooms on the third floor where we brought the remaining food and drinks and spent the rest of the evening visiting. Later in the evening, the hotel manager stopped by to say hello, introduced himself to me and ensured that we had everything we needed.
The experience of dining on local cuisine at both the restaurant and the private banquet room served as yet another reminder of the hospitality, generosity and sheer kindness I have experienced here at the Kinkiyu Hotel in Kawayu-Onsen.